How to do Scapular Pull Ups

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Scapular Pull Ups - How to do them

Scapular pull ups are an excellent addition to an upper-body strength training routine.

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As a triathlete, I’m always looking for a way to do cross training and body weight strength training. 

Scapular pull ups are very simple to perform. You don’t have to exert as much energy as you would doing a normal pull up. The effects of the exercise are highly beneficial for muscles in your shoulder region and your mid-back. 

The biggest difference with a scapular pull up is that you are not going to work your biceps and forearms as much as you would with a regular pull up. 

If you need a pull up bar. I have one like this at home. It works great, just be sure it is securely attached to the door frame before you begin a pull up.

Pull Up Bar for Scapular Pull Ups
Provided by Amazon

For those of us who are looking for more strength training isolation for our upper back and shoulders, and less strength training for our arms, scapular pull ups are an efficient and effective way to go about it.

If you are looking for a way to rehab or prehab your scapular muscles, I highly recommend checking out Physio Logic’s website.

Cyclists, runners, and swimmers can all benefit from scapular pull ups. Any exercise that increases muscular strength but does not cause weight gain is highly beneficial for endurance athletes who need to reduce the amount of energy it takes to get their bodies to the finish line.

Scapular pull ups will cause muscular tissue to grow and may cause some weight gain. But, back muscles are not highly susceptible to getting big.

From the viewpoint of those who are into weightlifting or bodybuilding, this exercise will benefit you because it will help you isolate a set of muscles that will support your larger muscle groups.

Scapular pull ups also help with balancing areas in your upper back that may get overlooked. 

Overall, scapular pull ups are an excellent way to build strength and isolate a very important set of structural muscles in your upper back.

Below is a detailed explanation of how you can perform a scapular pull up.

Scapular Pull Ups – Step by Step

  • Place hands on the pull-up bar wider than shoulder-width
  • Let your body fully drop down as if there’s no tension on your back or shoulders
  • When you’re at your lowest hanging position begin to pull upward with only your shoulder blades
  • Keep your arms as straight as possible
  • Hold the position at the top range of the rotation along your shoulder blades for 1 to 2 seconds
  • Then slowly release down into your lowest hanging position.

Sample Workouts for Scapular Pull Ups

  • Pyramids
    • 3,5,7,9,..etc. sets
    •  Keep the number sets at an odd number. This is so that you have a peak set in the middle of the workout.
    • You can vary your repetitions from 1 to 21 depending on your ability.
    • Remember to increase by 1 repetition up until the peak set.
    • After the peak set, decrease the repetitions by one until you have arrived at your start number of reps.
  • Increases
    • Increase by 1 repetition on every set that you go up.
    • You can do an odd number or even number of sets.
    • For beginners, I would do 1 repetition on the first set. Then I would do 2 repetitions on the second set. And I will continue up until you reach 5 repetitions on the 5th set.
    • For intermediate or advanced levels, I would start with 8 to 10 repetitions and increase by one repetition on every succeeding set.
  • Decreases
    • These are performed in the same way as increases stated above, but you will start at your most repetitions and end with your least repetitions.
    • For instance, if you are doing 3 sets and you want to start with 5 repetitions, then you would have your first set be 5 reps. Then, your second set would be 4 reps. And you would continue decreasing the amount of repetitions until you’ve reached your desired least amount of repetitions.
  • Even Sets
    • These are as they sound; you do the same amount of repetitions for each set.
    • For beginners I would do 3 sets of 3 reps.
    • For intermediate or advanced levels, I would do 3-5 sets of 10 reps.


If your goal is to eventually be able to do traditional pull ups, then scapular pull ups are a great way to start. As you get stronger, you can continue the upward pull a couple inches higher each week. 

I would recommend that you try to increase your range at the end of your scapular pull up workout. The end of your workout is when your muscles are the most tired. If you pull up a little bit higher at the end of your workout, your body will get used to the stress of getting higher on your pull up the next time you do your scapular pull up routine.

Scapular pull-ups are a great addition to your workout routine. They are easier to perform than a full pull up. Doing them does not take a lot of time, but they are enormously effective. After doing them for a month or two, you can easily jump up to full pull-ups. 

If you are doing them solely to strengthen your shoulders and upper back, they are way more tiring than you might expect. There’s very little range of motion but there is a lot of exertion that goes into it.

I’ve been doing full pull ups for over 30 years. But I will start using scapular pull ups in my workout routine. I was amazed at how effective they are.

If you are a rock climber, scapular pull ups are great for training your climbing muscles. It’s especially beneficial for training your shoulders for the delicate movements that you can make while climbing.

If you really just want a nice upper back workout, scapular pull ups are a wonderful addition to your exercise regimen.

If you are looking for another exercise that is not well known, rarely talked about, and highly effective for strengthening your glutes, check this article on anterior leaning lunges.